by Pablo Ros | May 29, 2015
Six months after Officer Thomas Bean responded to the bloody scene at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults were gunned down, Police Chief Michael Kehoe tried to fire him.
Officer Bean has been unable to return to work since the massacre on Dec. 14, 2012. He suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a debilitating condition caused by trauma with symptoms that range from emotional detachment and inability to feel pleasure to severe anxiety, insomnia, hostile behavior, blackouts and thoughts of suicide.
His union, AFSCME Local 3153 (Council 15), stood by him. Last week, a state board ruled that Officer Bean must continue to receive 50 percent of his salary until he retires, under terms of the contract the town signed with the police union.
“The union is happy with the decision,” said Scott Ruszcyk, president of Local 3153. “Not only is it a victory for the union, but a victory for the integrity of the collective bargaining agreement. Tom was not looking for a handout, he was simply looking for the town to live up to its contractual obligations.”
Many states cover PTSD under workers compensation, but Connecticut is not one of them. Without a union contract, Officer Bean would be on his own.
“Officer Bean was killed that day,” he said, he told the Hartford Courant, referring to the day of the massacre. “I can never be that person again.”
Getting through a normal day is a struggle for Officer Bean, who has trouble sleeping and suffers crippling flashbacks.
“My goal every day is to get up, put the kids on the school bus and try and set up one task I can accomplish that day, whether it be paying the bills or doing laundry,” he said.
AFSCME continues to push for Connecticut to cover PTSD under workers compensation. This year, Sgt. David Orr, a police officer from Norwalk, Connecticut, and member of AFSCME Local 1727, urged President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing to recommend extending workers compensation to cover PTSD, citing the psychological injuries suffered by police officers who responded to the Sandy Hook massacre.
by Namita Waghray | May 29, 2015
AUSTIN, Texas – After months of intense lobbying by dedicated AFSCME union members, with coordinated efforts throughout the state, the Texas Legislature approved an unprecedented 10.5 percent pay raise for correctional officers, laundry managers and food service managers, while also rejecting a payroll deception bill.
The budget agreement that included the pay raise was another result of dedicated organizing by AFSCME members. Every Texas state employee got a 2.5 percent increase, with an additional 8 percent for COs, laundry managers and food service managers, intended to aid the Texas Department of Criminal Justice reduce vacancies and a 25 percent turnover rate. The proposed budget also would fund the pension plan without cutting retirement benefits.
A Texas House Committee declined to vote on the payroll deception bill before the May 23 deadline. The legislation, which had passed the Senate, aimed to eliminate payroll union dues deductions and include restrictions on collective bargaining rights. The bill was largely a rehash of model legislation proposed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing clearinghouse that has written and endorsed anti-union legislation in many states.
Throughout the legislative fights, AFSCME members made their voices heard in the Capitol. Members from every AFSCME affiliate in Texas – some driving as many as eight hours to get to Austin – testified and visited the offices of Senate and House members to lobby them in person.
“As a corrections officer, my family and I know what it means to go without a raise for years. That is why I am so proud of my fellow union sisters and brothers,” said Tanisha Woods. “Winning a 10.5 percent raise was amazing, but is just the beginning. We will win so much more as we get stronger!”
The corrections employees presented more than 8,000 signed cards supporting the pay increase and sent more than 1,200 emails asking the state Legislature to vote against the payroll deduction legislation. Retirees sent an additional 600 emails and 332 hand-delivered letters in opposition to the payroll deduction bill and in support of public employees. Activists placed nearly 700 patch-through calls to lawmakers from both retiree members and general public allies.
“I support my union and want to continue to win things like raises, stronger pensions, and better working conditions,” said Shawn Alfred of AFSCME Texas Corrections Officers. “I know that we can if our union continues to get stronger and larger.
“This payroll deception bill is out to mess with that,” Alfred continued. “Hundreds of us wrote letters and stood in front of politicians to let them know we stand with our union and won't let anything destroy it.”
by Clyde Weiss | May 28, 2015
The collective bargaining rights of more than 15,000 independent in-home child care and home care providers in Ohio were stripped away last week by Gov. John Kasich in the most recent of several anti-worker actions taken since his election in 2010.
Governor Kasich rescinded two executive directives, including one issued to independent child care providers in 2008 by then-Gov. Ted Strickland. More than 2,700 providers, who care for an estimated 20,000 children in Ohio, are represented by AFSCME Council 8.
The second executive order, signed in 2007, covered home health care providers represented by the Service Employees International Union. Both orders allowed the providers to seek a union and engage in collective bargaining with the state.
Since 2010, the child care providers have been covered by a contract signed by then-Governor Strickland that included health care benefits, a “Bill of Rights,” a grievance procedure and recognition of their union, improving provider reimbursement rates, pay practices, and training and operating rules with state and county officials. That contract would have expired at the end of June.
Governor Kasich’s order revokes all of those contract rights. The governor’s action “isn’t about doing what’s right for our state, it’s an attack on Ohio’s most vulnerable children that will limit their opportunities in the future,” said AFSCME Ohio Council 8 Pres. John A. Lyall, also an AFSCME International vice president.
“Governor Kasich has repeatedly targeted Ohio workers since taking office, and he’s continuing that pattern today,” Lyall added. “A loss of collective bargaining rights will mean lower-quality child care available to parents, and the loss of thousands of jobs that are largely held by women and minority workers now. This is another mean-spirited attack on working people that will hurt our families and our communities.”
Independent child care provider Asyia Haile, president of AFSCME Local 4025, which represents child care providers in 16 central Ohio counties, said Governor Kasich’s actions undermine their efforts to provide quality care that “can be the difference between a family living on public assistance or moving into the middle class. Without union representation, I worry that families won’t be able to find the same professionalism or standards of care for their children.”
Haile said the governor’s action “will probably drive some providers out of business or discourage talented professionals from entering the industry at all. Ultimately, this move will be bad for Ohio’s working families and for our communities.”
You can help these hard-working child care providers regain their union rights. Click here to send a message to Governor Kasich and other state lawmakers to urge them to restore collective bargaining rights with an amendment to the state’s two-year budget.
by Kevin Brown | May 28, 2015
After nearly a year of delays, the Los Angeles County Pharmacists voted overwhelmingly to join the Union of American Physicians and Dentists (UAPD), AFSCME. The County Employee Relations Commission (ERCOM) is expected to recognize the new unit at its next meeting on June 22, and contract bargaining can begin.
“The determination, unity and hard work demonstrated by pharmacists throughout this campaign has been striking,” said Stuart A. Bussey, M.D., president of UAPD. “Your strength will be put to good use in the coming months, when together we negotiate a first UAPD contract for your group. Congratulations, and welcome to UAPD!”
In 2014, UAPD received petitions signed by more than 70 percent of LA County pharmacists to separate from their previous union and make UAPD their exclusive representative for collective bargaining.
The transition wouldn’t come without interruption, however. The process to form a new union for Los Angeles County pharmacists requires ERCOM to approve the petitions that pharmacists had signed over several months. Holding up the process was a vacant position on ERCOM that needed to be filled before UAPD could welcome their new members.
UAPD, with the support of other unions, sought legislation to resolve the conflict and get ERCOM up and running again. UAPD worked tirelessly to get the bill passed by the State Assembly and Senate, but it was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, further delaying contract negotiations that will include proposals for salary increases and an improved board certification exams process.
“While we don’t yet represent pharmacists in Los Angeles County, we know that your group needs representation now, especially around the issue of the competency examination,” Bussey wrote in a letter last September updating the pharmacists on the legislation.
Fortunately, months after Governor Brown’s veto, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors appointed a neutral member to ERCOM, and UAPD immediately began lobbying to put consideration of the pharmacist’s petition at the top of the ERCOM’s agenda.
Now, with 90 percent of the pharmacists voting to join UAPD, and the recognition pending, the union will put in a request with the County to bargain over a new pharmacist contract for the 300 new members.
by David Patterson | May 27, 2015
The Illinois Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a $105 billion pension change affecting half a million active and retired public employees is unconstitutional.
The law passed in 2013 reduced pension benefits for active and retired employees of the state of Illinois, state universities and teachers outside Chicago, even though the state’s constitution explicitly provides that pension benefits cannot be diminished.
AFSCME and other public sector unions filed suit to overturn the law.
In its ruling, the court rejected claims that the state’s dire fiscal straits justified the pension reductions.
“Crisis is not an excuse to abandon the rule of law,” wrote Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier, who authored the ruling. “It is a summons to defend it.”
The justices noted that lawmakers had failed to keep in place a 2011 temporary income tax hike that boosted the personal tax rate to 5 percent. The increase automatically phased down to 3.75 percent for individuals at the start of the year, reducing annual revenue by $4 billion.
The pension law passed in 2013 would have lowered cost-of-living increases for retirees, extended retirement ages for current employees and limited the amount of salary used to calculate pension benefits, with the effect of reducing the average pension benefit by more than 30 percent over two decades of retirement. Most Illinois public employees aren’t eligible for Social Security and the average pension of $32,000 per year is their primary source of income.
“We are thankful that the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the will of the people, overturned this unfair and unconstitutional law, and protected the hard-earned life savings of correctional officers, caregivers, first responders, teachers, and other public service workers and retirees,” said Roberta Lynch, executive director of AFSCME Illinois Council 31.
The court’s decision will likely affect a lawsuit filed by AFSCME and other unions challenging a law backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel that cuts pensions of city employees and retirees.
by Clyde Weiss | May 27, 2015
African-Americans pay a high price when public-service jobs and collective bargaining power is lost. This is a grim picture drawn in human terms in a profile by The New York Times of Miami public-service workers who are black and trying to make it in a state whose anti-union governor has been cutting public services and undermining workers’ rights by attacking their unions.
For millions of black families in America, “working for the government has long provided a dependable pathway to the middle class and a measure of security harder to find in the private sector, particularly for those without college degrees,” The Times report says. “Roughly one in five black adults works for the government, teaching school, delivering mail, driving buses, processing criminal justice and managing large staffs. They are about 30 percent more likely to have a public-sector job than non-Hispanic whites, and twice as likely as Hispanics.”
The problem is endemic not only in Florida but in other states where right-wing governors have gone after public-service workers and their unions, and it goes back many years, as AFSCME Pres. (then Sec.-Treas.) Lee Saunders noted in The Root in May 2011:
“These revelations mean that the plans by radical governors to rob public employees of their rights, shrink pay and benefits, and cut jobs will have a disproportionate impact on black families and communities,” Saunders wrote, adding that “it will get worse if ultraconservative politicians cripple public-sector unions, making them incapable of protecting their members.”
The attraction of public-sector jobs for African-Americans is obvious, The Times points out:
“Many employed blacks are stuck in lower-wage industries that tend to have fewer benefits and higher turnover, which is one reason public-sector jobs – more likely to be unionized and subject to stricter anti-discrimination protections – have been such a magnet for blacks.”
Public-service jobs at the local, state and federal levels dropped with the loss of tax revenues following the Great Recession, The Times noted. Despite a growing economy, those jobs have not grown with it.
“An incomplete recovery is part of the reason,” The Times story said, “but a combination of strong anti-government and anti-tax sentiment in some places has kept down public payrolls. At the same time, attempts to curb collective bargaining, like those led by Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker, a likely Republican presidential candidate, have weakened public unions.”
Governor Walker’s anti-union campaign is a story of corporate greed and anti-union sentiment with roots in racism. The struggle of African Americans to escape poverty is mirrored in those developments, and The New York Times story attempts to make their reality understood by us all. Read it here.
by Justin Lee | May 26, 2015
Communities nationwide honored the commitment and sacrifice of emergency medical professionals last week, with many calling for the nation’s largest private EMS provider to start respecting its workforce.
From Missouri to California, EMS workers spoke with residents and local officials about their mission to improve patient care at American Medical Response (AMR). High employee turnover, aging ambulances and equipment, and long hours are all too common with private EMS providers such as AMR. Because these issues can put the public at risk, emergency medical professionals are determined to gain a voice at AMR to make sure quality patient care always comes first.
In Missouri, EMT Robert Mills and Paramedic Joey Ford addressed these issues before the Independence City Council.
“As the population of Independence grows, so does the number of emergency calls,” said Mills. “It’s important, now more than ever, that we have an open dialogue between EMS personnel and the city — and between EMS personnel and our employer, AMR.”
Ford added, “We aim to improve AMR for our patients, our families, and your families. With your help, we can get it done.”
Their colleagues at AMR in Riverside County, California, took that message to a local health fair where more than 150 residents signed cards in support of their mission. Many were surprised when they learned of AMR’s 28 percent turnover rate last year.
“We want to raise awareness about our profession and our mission,” said Paramedic Brian Corona. “When people understand what we do, they’re willing to stand with us.”
Negotiations with the company resume in early June, and it’s time for AMR to listen. The licensed professionals working on the front lines every day need a voice at AMR to improve patient care, and residents who depend on their services agree.
by Dave Patterson | May 26, 2015
SPRINGFIELD, Illinois—Thanks to an energized and organized labor community in Illinois, politicians in big towns and small have taken heed that local right-to-work zones proposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner are not a popular idea. Legislators in the Illinois House let Rauner know the same, when a vote on the measure yielded zero “yes” votes of support and 72 “nos.”
This smackdown of one of the key components of the new governor’s self-dubbed “turnaround” agenda is a stinging rebuke to his anti-labor crusade. Speeches on the House floor clearly exposed the governor’s real goal in promoting right-to-work measures: trying to weaken workers’ voices.
“What right-to-work does, this is the only thing it does, is it gives somebody the ability to freeload,” said Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., a Democrat from Joliet and a 20-year machinists’ union member. “That's what it does. They get the same benefits, the same wages, the same protections as that of a union member. And what that does is destroy the inner-functions of organized labor.”
In addition to pushing the right-to-work scam on local communities, Rauner illegally stopped fair share fees paid by state employees who choose not to join the union but benefit from its gains. He would also like to outlaw political contributions from labor unions, while allowing corporate donations.
“This governor has no respect for unions or the working people who choose to join them,” said Roberta Lynch, executive director of AFSCME Illinois Council 31 and an AFSCME International vice president. “The House of Representatives’ vote of ‘no support’ for his policies should make clear to him that his anti-union plans are not popular with the people of Illinois.”
by Pablo Ros | May 22, 2015
Activist trainings were held in San Diego, California, Washington state and New York City in recent weeks, taking the AFSCME Strong campaign to the next level.
AFSCME Strong is about engaging members of our union one conversation at a time. Coaches’ trainings occurred already throughout the country. During the next year, we will train 5 percent of our union’s members to become activists. They, in turn, will have one-on-one conversations with their coworkers about the importance of standing up for our jobs, our families and our futures. In this way, we will connect with a majority of our union’s members to fight attacks against our wages, benefits and pensions.
Coaches train activists. Activists reach out to their coworkers, engaging 80 percent of members across the nation and making our union stronger. That’s how it works.
Arabela Corros is a registered nurse in Riverside, California. She is a member of the United Nurses Associations of California (UNAC)/AFSCME Local 1199 and an active steward in her union. In early May, she became one of 164 activists trained during the Nurses Congress held in San Diego. Participants were from UNAC, Ohio Council 8, and the Hawaii Government Employees Association/AFSCME Local 152, among others.
“I feel inspired and empowered with the knowledge and training I obtained during the seminar,” Corros said. “I have always been an advocate for fairness and equal rights. Having a good knowledge of individual rights and responsibilities will make me a better person and an effective activist and leader. I want to help our union grow for the future of our kids.”
New York City
More than 130 activists from District Council 37 were trained on May 2nd. With a contract fight at The City University of New York, ongoing campaigns to protect public services, and a fight for pay equity on the line, the AFSCME Strong training could not come at a better time.
As part of the training, the New York activists went to more than 30 worksites to hear firsthand from AFSCME members in 10 different locals on the issues important to them and their families. They held conversations with more than 140 workers on these sites and signed up 100 new PEOPLE members, with 70 percent at the MVP level.
Washington Council 28 held a training on April 11 during which 100 AFSCME members were trained as activists. Held in SeaTac, Washington, the new activists came from nearly all Council 28 locals, representing groups of workers from throughout the state.
One of the training participants, Tracy Stanley, president of AFSCME Local 1400, said her motivation for being active in her union was “knowing what is at stake and knowing there is a real possibility that we could lose many of the rights that took immense struggle to obtain.”
“There is so much to be thankful for to those before us,” she added. “Many paid the high price of activism with their freedom; some paid with their lives. I believe I owe it to the next generation to hold on to those rights and continue the fight for further economic, social, and political justice for all American workers.”
The AFSCME Strong training was an inspiring experience to her that is already helping her achieve her goals, she said.
“Practicing speaking, and more importantly, listening techniques in a safe environment with other members has given me the confidence to speak in a number of environments where I have been able to share the vision of our union and how unions as a whole benefit not just workers that are union members, but all workers,” Stanley said.
Also, thousands of state employees walked out of more than 80 worksites on May 20 to urge the state legislature to honor negotiated pay raises. Council 28 organized the “unity breaks,” which occurred during lunch breaks at noon.
by Kevin Zapf Hanes | May 22, 2015
Nearly 1,000 New Jersey residents, including more than 100 members of AFSCME Councils 1, 52, 71 and 73, had a pointed message for Gov. Chris Christie after he called on public employees to send him a thank you note for paying into the state pension system.
With the governor and his team of lawyers pursuing legal action to break his own law guaranteeing that public employees receive an annual payment into the pension system, the workers showed up in Trenton to demand that Christie honor the law. The message was underscored in the days that followed, with the American Federation of Teachers and New Jersey Education Association running a radio ads; and the Communications Workers crafting a true “thank you” from all residents of New Jersey.
“Dear Gov. Christie, Thank you for breaking the law and skipping pension payments, for destroying services and risking our retirement security to coddle millionaires and corporations with tax breaks and subsidies, for forcing workers to pay more while handing Wall Street outrageous fees for managing the pensions."
The state Supreme Court is slated to rule by the end of June on whether the Christie administration broke the law by failing to make the scheduled pension payments, as defined by the law his administration created.